Best known for his work with fellow countrymen Trygve Seim, Per Oddvar Johansen and Mats Eilertsen on ECM's The Source (ECM 2006), trombonist Oyvind Braekke belongs among Norway's hidden treasures as far as arrangers and composers go. On Wilderness he displays delicate oversight at arranging six voices so that each instrument conveys a unique purpose. From intimate dialogues to orchestral proportions, the sextet covers a large spectrum sonically as well as compositionallydelivering a diversified yet conceptually determined set of exciting music.
Jacob Young laying out the harmonic backing with subtle comping on guitar instead of keys is one thing. Featuring Bergmund Waal Skaslien on viola in place of a third brass or reed is another. Both add to the interesting shades of color encapsulating this affair. Besides instrumentation, arrangement and composition are the defining disciplines represented throughout Wilderness, with Braekke at his creative peak. The structure of the different songs doesn't follow one specific approachthey instead have an exploratory and curious quality in common, bound together by their differences rather than their similarities. "The Wait" profits from melodic drum work that aptly accompanies the ambiguous reciprocity between consistent flow and constant melodic changes. The opener's collective approach is contrasted by the more straight forward balladic consistency of the title track, which features guitar, trombone and saxophone trading enticing solos.
Classic ECM recordings featuring Jack DeJohnette or Jon Christensen come to mind as soon as the first bars of cymbal-driven "Trees of Siberia" hit the floor running. From there the composition continues down the freer streets of jazz, with composed melodic material decorating the sidewalks along the edges. Young's prominence on the record is apparent due to his technical chops, and also for the variety in sound and tapestry his guitar provides. Clean on the opener, subtly vocal on "Wilderness," projecting a slight fuzz in "Trees of Siberia," while the viola switches on a full blown distortion effect for "Gaia"a track that seamlessly shifts from acoustic jazz to atmospheric fusion in the blink of an eye.
The ballad "Yellowstone" provides a more typical environment for sextet and sees the band presenting their most tried and tested vocabulary to a comfortable setting, while "Flow" brings in a Latin note in 5, over which Braekke speaks in a fluent, full-bodied tone. A similar collectiveness to the opener closes the album in "Spare." When mixed into a section in unison, the viola's timbre rubs off on to trumpet and saxophone rather than the other way around, resulting in an especially exciting texture of melodic unity. The syncopated nature of the melody makes the closer all the more compelling.
Wilderness is very successful at demonstrating a gifted composer and inspired arranger accompanied by a group of top-tier musicians joyfully interpreting his charts. Not to mention Braekke's own chops as a trombonist. A Norwegian export to be savored.
The Wait; Wilderness; Trees of Siberia; Yellowstone; Psalm Recycled; Gaia; Flow; Spare.